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Point of View Within Third Person

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Sun Nov 30, 2008 9:53 pm
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JFW1415 says...

You sit down, fingers posed over the keyboard, mind buzzing with ideas, just bursting to write. After opening a blank document, the words begin to fall out. You finish with a smile, sit back, and read the first paragraph.

Brandon paced back and forth on the boardwalk, drumming his fingers against his thighs impatiently. His mouth still tasted of the tangy sherbet he had just finished, and he could see the remnants of his cone lying on the top of the overflowing trashcan several feet away. A little girl in rags ran over to the trashcan. I’m so hungry, she thought. Glancing around, she dipped her hand into the trashcan and grabbed the cone. Samantha walked down the sidewalk, shades shielding her eyes from the hot summer sun. She saw a little girl picking cigarette stubs out of an ice cream cone, wrinkled her nose, and turned the other way.

After reading all five pages, you grin in triumph – it’s perfect. An interesting plot line, good set of characters, nice details. You know you’ll be one of the Featured Works in no time, so you go ahead and post it, leaving to have some ice cream. (You described it so well it made you hungry!)

Several hours later you return to the computer. You immediately open YWS, search through the Featured Works. You’re not there.

Okay, you think. That’s fine. It’s still early – I’ll just see how many stars I already have. But when you go to your page, there are only two stars – the automatic one, and the one you gave yourself. (Hey, it was a good story!) You begin skimming through the reviews, and they all say the same thing: ‘It’s too jumpy.’ ‘I got confused.’ ‘I couldn’t focus – my eyes were never on one character long enough.’

Are these people just ignorant, or is there something wrong with it?

They’re not ignorant. (Of course not – they’re YWSers!) You were so desperate to show all the senses for every character, you thrashed us around. You switched around during third person.

Third person is pretty open-ended. We can see it through the main character’s eyes. We can see it through the villain’s eyes. Heck, we can even see it through the dog’s eyes if you wanted us to! But we have to see through someone’s eyes.

In the passage above, we didn’t see through anyone’s eyes. First we were beside Brandon, then the little girl, then Samantha. We were tugged all over the place, pulled up every time we began to get comfortable.

How do you experience everything through one character without switching into first person? It’s actually pretty hard to explain. It is limited – we can’t know what’s happening ten miles down the road, unless you make a clear break and switch to down the road. We can’t see everyone’s thoughts.

But telling you what not to do won’t help you too much – an example will. It’s from Light of the Moon by Luanne Rice. She does this wonderfully, and it’s probably the best I’ve seen (and consciously noticed) for a long time.

He flashed a quick, wonderful smile, for a moment she saw starbursts around his eyes, smile lines around his mouth, white teeth.

Here we are seeing the world through Susanna’s eyes. We aren’t told why he’s smiling, but we see her reaction.

Once he and Claude had gotten the horses rubbed down and most of them stabled, he paid Claude and said he’d see him tomorrow. Clause had walked home to Anne and Laurent, leaving Grey to head over to the main paddock, where he’d left Mystère for last.

Here it is in Grey’s point of view (it was a new chapter,) yet it’s still third person. We don’t follow Claude back home – our eyes stay on Grey the whole time. We don’t know if Claude is dreading going back home, we don’t know if Laurent is doing homework, we don’t know if Anne is dead. All we know is what we experience from Grey.

Luanne Rice was right on the ball here. We aren’t being jerked around, trying to see everything. Instead, we find a buddy. We stick by them the whole time, and, while we are still separate from them (not falling into first person,) we experience pretty much the same things they do, giving us the bond you want to create.

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!”
— Little Women